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The scene of the shooting in Omagh. DIARMUID PEPPER/THE JOURNAL

Local MLA 'There's a black cloud over Omagh today - one we'd hoped had gone forever'

The SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan says the people of Omagh are shocked that such violence has once again visited them.

IT’S HARD TO find the words to describe the act that was carried out in Omagh last night.

Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell, a man who puts himself in harm’s way each and every day to protect his community, was gunned down by cowards in full view of his son and other innocent people while packing up his car after a football training session.

To think that someone could set out on an evening like that with such cruel intent, with no regard for the lives of anyone in their way, is beyond comprehension. The focus of the PSNI investigation is on the New IRA, which indicates the utterly misguided and outdated view of the world held by those with such intentions last night. Dissident groups like these have no place in our modern society.  

This incident harks back to the worst days of our dark past, particularly for a place like Omagh, where people have suffered so much and where the scourge of violence has permanently destroyed so many lives and taken so much from the local community.

‘An attack on peace’

The people of Omagh are among the strongest you’ll find anywhere – they’ve had to be with the repeated tragedies that have impacted the community there over the years, and from this too they will emerge stronger, but right now there is a black cloud over the place, the type of which many had hoped and prayed was gone forever.

I have been in Omagh and to the scene of the shooting today and people just cannot believe that this kind of violence has once again visited their doorsteps.

Those who carried out this unspeakable act, on a community servant at a sports centre in full view of children and passers-by have the support of nobody in the North. This despicable attack has brought forth widespread revulsion and outcry, uniting people in their horror at what has taken place.

Police officers work in our community each and every day to keep people safe. They know the risks that come with the job, but even then nobody would have expected something like this to take place. This was far from just an attack on our police service, it was an attack on our communities, on our island and on our peace.

Thinking of John

The thoughts of myself and the SDLP are with John Caldwell and his family as he continues to fight for his life. Throughout his career he has distinguished himself, showing courage and bravery in the pursuit of justice, in stark contrast to those who carried out this attack.

The fast reactions of people on the scene last night are perhaps the best indicator of the strength of community spirit in Omagh, it is one that cannot be broken. From the person who went to DCI Caldwell’s aid while he was under attack to the emergency services who responded to the incident – they all deserve our praise for their tremendous courage. DCI Caldwell’s colleagues in the PSNI have also acted with the utmost professionalism in unimaginable circumstances.

These are the people who represent the best of this community, not the criminals who carried this out.

Our path to peace in Northern Ireland has been fraught with many challenges but we have prided ourselves on the fact that a whole generation now has no real recollection of anything but peace. This terrible incident is a dreadful reminder of a time we all want to forget.

It is now incumbent on us all to work together to make sure those dark days never return. What happened this week has proven one thing – we will not return to the past, and those who dare to drag us there will be opposed at every turn.

Daniel McCrossan is an SDLP MLA for West Tyrone. 

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